GAME REVIEW: Monochroma

Nowhere Studios’ Monochroma is certainly suitably named. The stark world that the game presents would certainly benefit by stumbling across a paint colour chart or an odd rainbow. But then, that would miss the point. There is a beauty to Monochroma’s world that is purely down to the limited colour palette. However, in places the player does stumble across splashes of red in the environment. These really draw the eye to the things that might be important and adds to the overall effect. That’s why I’m mentioning the visuals at the very start of this review. They just look great.

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The game itself might be what would emerge if Limbo and Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons had a baby. It has the stark and harsh world of the former and the sibling bond and encumbrance of the latter. The player controls the older brother using simple movement controls that allow the character to move left and right, jump, interact with the environment or pick up his brother. The younger brother suffers a mishap early on in the game which means that the older has to carry him. This hampers the older brother’s jumping ability which means that the younger brother must be put down at intervals when puzzles need solving. It doesn’t help matters that the younger brother will only allow himself to be deposited in areas that are well lit. Later in the game, there are many puzzles which add a timed element to the puzzle solving. You might put your younger brother down and he begins to slide slowly down a slope towards some threat. You have to achieve what you wanted to do with the older in time to pick him up again before he dies.

Death will be a very common event in Monochroma. While not incredibly hard, there are some areas and puzzles that will kill you before you even know what’s going on. The deaths do have meaning though, in so far as they teach you something about the environment or puzzle which allows you to edge closer to a solution. The puzzles themselves often entail pulling a switch of some kind to trigger some event or control some platform or other. There is also the odd chase sequence where you must outrun a large man who keeps trying to capture you. These are a nice break from the usual puzzles, but are just as fraught with the likelihood of failure. Monochroma is a platform game at heart, one that will make you swear out loud at times, but others mutter to yourself about how cool or creepy something is.

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The story in Monochroma is inspired by the developers’ childhood memories of moving from the rural countryside to urban Istanbul and is conveyed purely by the environment. There are no cut-scenes and there is no speech. The player must just watch and ponder. I like this style of storytelling very much. So many games shove their (usually trope riddled) narrative down your throat as if they doubt your ability to catch on to things yourself. This is the other end of the scale and I wish more games would experiment with this style of storytelling. The ending takes between 4-6 hours to get to and is perfectly in keeping with the mood of the rest of the game. One thing I didn’t enjoy was the boss fight though. In a way it was Dark Souls like. You have to learn a pattern and what to do, dying and learning, dying and learning a bit more. I got past it but it felt a little unnecessary.

The game’s music is haunting and very well suited to the bleak landscapes that the brothers find themselves rushing through. Even the chord that sounds when one or other dies begins to seep into your mind more than it should after your twentieth death.

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I enjoyed the time I spent in the creepy industrial world of Monochroma. It felt the equivalent of going somewhere harsh and dreary for an alternative kind of holiday break. One in which you come back home more thankful for what you have and with an added depth and strength to your character.

Monochroma is out on May 28th on Steam. It’s available for PC, Mac and Linux. View the game’s website here.

Rating: 4.5/5

Reviewer: Casey Douglass

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